The Power of Artist Collaboration

I am increasingly convinced that the best hope for the future of great music is through artist collaboration. With setting up Music for the Head and Heart I have been fortunate to meet and interview many extraordinary artists from all over the globe. I’ve previously blobbed about how streaming has essentially killed online earning opportunities for many artists and of course covid 19 has also killed live gigs.

On a brighter note its given me the opportunity to focus on music creation at a whole new level and 2021 and 2022 will see the release of at least three new albums, very different in style, with some crossover material. One of the albums will centre around collaborations with some really extraordinary artists from USA and Europe as well as the UK. These will be revealed in due course and I am honoured and flattered with their enthusiasm for being involved in what will be titled the “All kinds of crazy” album.

The process of artist involvement

Since March 2020, I have written 30 new songs and 27 of these have already been recorded for one of the three projects. There will be alternative versions of some of these songs and I have approached a number of artists to take vocal parts and/or to add new musical contributions. To date the best results have come from simply giving the artists total free reign in their contributions instead of micro managing them. I’m blown away by the material we have received that is going to make for some excellent album releases. Special thanks to all those who have made contributions to date and the two producers who have done a brilliant job in mastering and remixing the material.

Working with Emily Mercer

During Covid 19, I’ve been writing and recording at a furious rate across four projects. I started out with working on material for ‘The Caravan of Dreams” and then handed of some tracks which started the Code-E1 remix project. I also began to experiment in the studio with material that didn’t really fit either of these projects. One writing “wait until the pain is gone” I had the idea to ask Emily Mercer to add some vocals. I’ve known Emily for a while and invited her to be part of Music for the Head and Heart after she agreed to do some support slots for The Caravan of Dreams. I’ve always been impressed by her musicality and songwriting, but had no idea if a collaboration would pan out.

After we received the first track, it became obvious that there was some real potential here to create some great material and I’ve now had 4 tracks back, all of which sound terrific. This is a departure from what I have done to date and most tracks are really stripped back mostly to just piano and vocals. What I really like about Emily Mercer’s work is that she has a great musical instinct. I also forget that as well as being a superb vocalist, she is one excellent keyboard player. I’m going to continue to sent over tracks as what we have already recorded sounds fantastic to my ears.

Emily Mercer

Also check https://emilymercermusic.co.uk/

48 Songs and counting…

I’m currently organising studio time for 2020 and took a few moments to look about at the songs I have professionally recorded to date. My first band was “The Small Change Diaries” where we recorded two albums and one EP. Since then I have recorded a debut album with “The Caravan of Dreams” which is my new ensemble.

Here are the songs I have recorded to date and a provisional listing for the second Caravan of Dreams album

ADAM BLAMES EVE – THE SMALL CHANGE DIARIES

  1. Adam blames Eve
  2. This Perfect Place
  3. Airport Codeine Blues
  4. There’s only one of you
  5. One day I’ll disappear
  6. Birdman
  7. Miles Ahead
  8. I’m driven here to comment
  9. This Heart wants
  10. Five String Man
  11. Hey Rona
  12. Amish frame of mind
  13. Cold Mountain

PROTEST SONGS – THE SMALL CHANGE DIARIES

  1. Not one of us
  2. Big Tony
  3. Commons Sense
  4. Draw you out

LULLABIES FOR CYNICS – THE SMALL CHANGE DIARIES

  1. Hold on
  2. Huggie Crying thing
  3. I know what you’re saying
  4. Not one of us
  5. Kicking down doors
  6. There’s no trees
  7. Draw you out
  8. Voodoo Doll
  9. Birdman 2017
  10. Slow news day
  11. You can drop by anytime
  12. Lullaby

This sweet seduction (unreleased)

TALES OF DARK AND LIGHT – NICK CODY AND THE CARAVAN OF DREAMS

  1. Tales of Dark and Light intro
  2. Dunning Kruger Blues
  3. The pink moon
  4. All that loving, all that fighting
  5. Grey Skies
  6. One finger to block out the sun
  7. He’s shooting blanks
  8. When the pain begins
  9. Say what you’re thinking
  10. No more street parties
  11. Open up
  12. The Other me
  13. Here in the silence
  14. Tales of Dark and Light

ALL IS FINE UNTIL THE WORLD GOES POP – THE CARAVAN OF DREAMS

(To be recorded) 10 tracks currently planned!

Special thanks to everyone who has played on these recordings to date and to those guests lined up for the next album

Observations on songwriting from successful musical artists

Here are some of my favorite quotes from artists on songwriting that in my view are well worth a read as these folks have dedicated their lives to this pursuit

writing

 

“Songwriting’s a weird game. I never intended to become one – I fell into this by mistake, and I can’t get out of it. It fascinates me. I like to point out the rawer points of life”. Keith Richards

“Songwriting is a very mysterious process. It feels like creating something from nothing. It’s something I don’t feel like I really control”. Tracy Chapman

“I’m definitely a fan of juxtaposition. Using the most beautiful line to say the most horrific thing – I think one of the main things in songwriting is definitely friction between the words and the melody”. Rufus Wainwright

“Songwriting is kind of like a craft. It’s not something that just comes in a dream. You’ve got to work at it”. Sean Lennon

“Inspiration is a word used by people who aren’t really doing anything. I go into my office every day that I’m in Brighton and work. Whether I feel like it or not is irrelevant.’” Nick Cave

“You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients-list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them. You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this. You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.” David Bowie

“What comes first? The melody, always. It’s all about singing the melodies live in my head. They go in circles. I guess I’m quite conservative and romantic about the power of melodies. I try not to record them on my Dictaphone when I first hear them. If I forget all about it and it pops up later on, then I know it’s good enough. I let my subconscious do the editing for me.” Björk

The story so far – writing original songs

I just finished “Tales of Dark and Light” for the new Caravan of Dreams ensemble and I was reflecting on the songs I have written to date. The first album for “The Small Change Diaries” was “Adam Blames Eve” which had 13 original songs.

This seems a lifetime ago and I look back and often think how I could have improved some of the material, but that’s part of the process of musical evolution!

The second release for the band as the Protest Songs EP with 4 songs. I like the idea of themed EPs and this included “Not one of us” and “Draw you out” which I further developed for the second album “Lullabies for Cynics” which also included a revamped version of Birdman with Laurent Zeller on violin. We shot a video for this which I think is terrific

“Lullabies for Cynics” is much more diverse than the previous material and I think the writing is a lot stronger. I started including guest musicians and both Phil Doleman and Laurent add some terrific dynamics to the material.

After two albums and an EP with The Small Change Diaries, I started writing for a new ensemble “Nick Cody and The Caravan of Dreams’ The 14 tracks on the debut album “Tales of Dark and Light” are again all originals. There are a lot more musicians on these tracks and the music is a lot more diverse. I wrote most of the tracks on either ukes or the Gregor guitarelle and then we worked up the vocals on piano in my weekly sessions with Agi. This has proved to be an excellent writing process and I think its some of the best material to date.  I’m taking a lot more time with these songs and after signing off the final mixes we are now working on the live set. The songs are a lot darker that anything I have written before and there’s a lot more detail in the song structures. Writing original songs is a fascinating process and the Caravan material is a new departure. Here is a preview of some of the songs that will be released next year. 

Here is one example

https://soundcloud.com/the-small-change-diaries/when-the-pain-begins

Stripping songs back to just piano and vocals

The Caravan of Dreams album is increasingly different to anything I have worked on before. The last two tracks we recorded in the studio “Open up” and “All that loving, all that fighting” are just piano and vocals from myself and Agi. As our producer commented “There’s nowhere to hide” 

This is proving to be a fascinating series of recording sessions with twelve different musicians. So far we have twelve tracks recorded and more planned before 2019. There’s a big variety of music, but I’m starting to really love the simplicity of writing and recording just vocals and piano. Agi has been a game changer in getting me to think differently about the whole songwriting process and I think the material for The Caravan of Dreams is my  best to date. The material is a lot darker and I’m spending a lot more time on working up the tracks. Although I’m often writing on the uke, the Gregor Nowak guitarelle has been essential in the writing process for this album. 

I’m far more mindful of vocal expression and the importance of arranging songs, so the title of the 2019 release “Tales of Dark and Light” is highly appropriate. Special thanks to the following who have been involved in recording this album, its a great team effort – Agi, Chris Smith, Dave Bowie, Fergus Quill, Jed Bevington, Rich Ferdi, Adrian Knowles, John Burr, Alice Higgins, Phil Doleman, Laurent Zeller  Paul Conway and of course Carl Rosamond for brilliant production. 

Tales of Dark and Light is due for release March 2019 with some low key gigs planned in 2018

What makes for great song lyrics? Some personal inspirations

I’m fascinated by language and words and lament mostly what I hear as lyrics in songs. Often what occurs is “ok” but IMO not great.

That said there are a few great ones out there, but you have to look to find them!

Here are some of my big inspirations for lyrics

Firstly, Nick Cave – here are some video clips with lyrics

https://youtu.be/s4CkPM0LJT4

https://youtu.be/DbGJgrBsgng

https://youtu.be/2kBl86cIV3g

Secondly an artist who nobody will have heard of, Frank Tedesso who disappeared without trace

I saw him twice, just brilliant, but you will find very little of his material anywhere, see him here 

https://youtu.be/2Ziu74z2MrM

Then of course my favorite Dylan Album “Blood on the tracks”

See – http://www.myths.com/pub/lyrics/Dylan-Bob_bott.html

Joni Mitchell is another great artist who wrote smart lyrics

FULL LIST – http://jonimitchell.com/music/songlist.cfm

One great example – http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=37

Finally, Tom Waits who continues to inspire and mystify

Check – http://www.tomwaits.com/songs/#/songs/song/260/Day_After_Tomorrow/

FULL songs here –

http://www.tomwaits.com/songs/ 

 

Get mad, anger is great for song writing!

I was wonderfully amused by The Secret Sisters talking about how one particular character who had caused them a lot of grief, was the inspiration for a bunch of songs. In “He’s Fine” they wonderfully specifically reference Davey White

“Davey White, where is he tonight?

He’s sleeping with her in a Tennessee town and he’s fine”

I have never met Davey White or know anything about him, but he certainly provoked the creation of a truly wonderful song and so I thank him for that.

The Therapeutic Value of songwriting

Strong emotions and especially anger have fueled many truly superb songs and I have personally found songwriting and song delivery to be wonderfully therapeutic. Many of the songs I have written come from personal experiences and observations and some of the planet’s greatest fuckwits and attention seekers have inspired some of my best writing. Once a song is recorded I always raise a glass to such characters as they are invaluable in the writing process. One of the latest songs “Dunning Kruger Blues” has one of my favorite all time lines which is “I bet you’re thinking this song’s about you” 

On The Small Change Diaries second album “Voodoo Doll” was inspired by an experience with a stalker over a two year period. Eventually I secured a harassment legal order against her. This experience gave me considerable insight into how to deal with such characters who are usually status obsessed and make everything about themselves! There’s another song in the works for the solo album with a similar theme.

Please lets have some edge and I don’t mean U2

Many protest songs were inspired by anger and regardless of your personal views music remains a terrific way to communicate and express our thoughts. One of my criticisms of many uke based songs is that aside from most people playing cover versions, original material often has very little edge. Artists are described as “wonderfully ethereal” or “pleasant listening” I accept I am in the minority and when at one festival a headliner started to adopt a cod Jamaican accent my wife commented “Oh for the love of god, kill me now!” 

Anger, frustration, love and many other strong emotions can be a terrific inspiration for writing. I’m a big fan of provoking debate and discussion and of course is not to everyone’s taste. In my other life I deal with clients with anger and jealousy issues on a weekly basis so I can spot such patterms a mile off. A great song requires inspiration but also careful crafting. Simply standing in a fielf wailing about personal perceived injustice is of course not gonna create the best work, although I appreciate that for some this may be their ownly outlet for such emotions! On the next album “Tales of Dark and Light” I wrote a song called “I’m praying for some misery” The theme of the song is that often an artist’s best work comes from tough life experience and in the song I site many examples of this.

Here are a couple of verses

“I’m praying for some misery, days of endless rain,
Rising tides of water make us think again,
Nothing of comfort’s in these comfort zones,
Greater sounding melodies darker tones

Black rider’s out, playing for small change,
Busking in the forest, rain dogs out of range,
Townes tips the waiter, Steve’s transcendent blue,
Turning up the pain for something new”

That’s Entertainment Part 2

After the last blog which featured male performers, here are some more terrific  entertainers.

Victoria Vox

 Victoria Vox came over to my house with 16 other performers and her husband Jack, this May. They performed a couple of tracks in my kitchen and blew me away. Rarely have I heard such great harmonies and playing. The combination is a bench mark for all duo acts. This is music at its best, smart lyrics, great melodies and terrific playing. That’s entertainment in spades!
 

Astraluna

There are countless female artists online these days, but few who can play and sing at this level. Astraluna is quite exceptional especially live when she is playing all manner of loops, building up a sonic feast. 

 
The set at GNUF on the OUS stage was really exceptional and an example of genuine and crucially original entertainment
 

Katy Vernon

 
Katy is a seasoned performed and this is one of the songs that appeared on the OUS sampler at GNUF 2017. Its very catchy and a great example of how to create a simple captivating tune.  Live she has great skills to engage an audience and creates a really good range of music which is rare these days.
 

Nicole McNally

 
 
This is a great example of a younger emerging artist with a great voice. I have never seen her live, but in my view this clip suggests great things ahead.  One of proofs of a good entertainer is when somebody can play a simple tune and entertain an audeince
 

Conclusion

These are 4 great  entertainers. There are of course many more, but these are the ones that come to mind. They are this time all original artists but that wasn’t the main consideration in picking them. The world is better for such folks.

Singer inspirations

I was asked recently by a fellow musician, who my inspirations are as singers. I have talked a lot in the past about songwriter inspirations, but singers are slightly different.

Here are some examples that have been a big influence on my own work

As you can see and hear, these are very different artists, but they all have a unique style and write great lyrics. I’m a massive fan of original music and all four artists have in my view done a great deal to push the boundaries in a world that’s too full of “cookie cutter” music.

Aside from Tom Waits I have seen the other artists live and they have never failed to disappoint. The smartest and best music is usually ahead of the curve in terms of popular opinion. Other singer songwriters I love include Stevie Wonder, John Hiatt, Ani Difranco, Daryl Hall, Joni Mitchell, Steve Earle, Nick Lowe, Bob Dylan among others. All have a definite point of view and regularly inspire as well as frustrate me with their output!

If you are going to do cover versions as well as original songs, then it doesn’t get much better than Daryl Hall and “Daryl’s House” is essential viewing/listening for any singer